When the doors open at Detroit’s Cobo Center on Monday, Motor City’s automakers will be hoping to get a home field advantage — and some investors will even be betting on it.
The annual North American International Auto Show will kick off with a grueling, all-day media preview expected to bring up to 5,000 journalists and industry analysts into town. The largest and most influential auto show on the continent, this year’s Detroit auto show will debut more than 30 new cars, trucks, concepts and crossovers.
Significantly, some of the car brands that walked away from the show as the economy — and car sales — entered free fall several years ago will return. That list includes Nissan. The Japanese automaker’s new Leaf battery car was a contender in the coveted North American Car of the Year trophy, but lost out to Chevy’s Volt Monday morning.Story: GM’s Chevy Volt named 2011 Car of the Year
In the two decades since a traditionally local car show was transformed into a signature international event, organizers have struggled to make the Cobo Center a sort of neutral zone, even though the sprawling convention center is just a slingshot’s distance from the General Motors headquarters in the Detroit Renaissance Center.
But despite a long list of import carmakers at the show, don’t be surprised to see Detroit dominate this year’s headlines. And new product is only part of the reason.
After being slammed hard by the recession, the Motown carmakers are showing an unexpected resilience that is silencing skeptics and leading analysts, investors — and most importantly, car buyers — to give General Motors, Ford and Chrysler a closer look.
For the first time since 2005, the Detroit “Big Three” gained market share last year, and a new survey by KPMG finds 200 global auto industry leaders predicting that trend will continue.
While Chrysler is still struggling, GM and Ford wrapped up 2010 comfortably back in the black and showing signs they could report record earnings even if the current economic cycle doesn’t see the U.S. auto market return to the 17-million levels of a decade ago.
That prompted a record IPO by General Motors in November, and has driven the value of Ford shares to levels not seen in years. Significantly, analysts at Goldman Sachs has issued a recommendation that investors should buy option “straddles” — which anticipate volatility in a stock — prior to the upcoming NAIAS.
“This year’s auto show is likely to be more important than most given the significant investor focus on a continued recovery in the U.S. auto industry after historically depressed auto sales,” wrote analysts John Marshall and Maria Grant in a recent report.
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Will the domestic makers live up to these lofty expectations?
GM’s four surviving North American brands will underscore the maker’s shift from gas-guzzling trucks to fuel-sipping passenger cars. GM’s debuts include the new Buick Verano compact, which is designed to add to the momentum of a brand until recently written off for dead. Chevrolet will focus on the new Sonic minicar, while GMC will explore the market for a more compact and efficient truck.Story: This time, Ford is preparing to handle success
Ford will offer up an array of battery-powered offerings, with models that include its first battery-electric sedan, the Focus Electric, and the C-Max plug-in hybrid. The launch of both a conventional and battery-based C-Max is itself a significant move, underscoring the maker’s One Ford strategy. This 7-passenger microvan was developed in Europe and it shares the same underpinnings as the Focus. Ford plans to launch 10 different “top hats,” or body styles off its Global C-Car platform, driving up economies of scale to the point it can deliver more content — at a lower cost to customers — while earning a profit on a market segment that historically ran it deep into the red.Life Inc.: Big Three were buzz brands in 2010
Chrysler, the most troubled of the Detroit carmakers, finally revealed the long-awaited 300 sedan, its once and future flagship car, at show Monday.
The outgoing model was a true benchmark for exterior design, but this time it features an interior that even leaders like Audi may come to envy. Along with updated (and in some cases renamed) models, like the Chrysler 200, Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee, the debut of the 300 could help Chrysler win some respect as it moves forward with an aggressive turnaround plan with Italy’s Fiat.Story: Chrysler hopes to rev up comeback with 300
And, indeed, there’ll be plenty on offer from European and Asian carmakers. Porsche’s preview is expected to spotlight a new high-performance sports car. Volkswagen will preview its all-new midsize sedan at a special, invitation-only gathering Sunday night. Audi will reveal an all-new A6, while BMW previews a trio of new products, including the next-generation 6-Series Convertible.
Expect a sizable crowd when Honda gets its turn in the spotlight, as it will debut a thinly disguised concept set to reappear, later this year, as an all-new Civic. Toyota will emphasize green technology with an all-new hybrid that will join the newly created family of Prius-badged products. And the Koreans, growing bolder by the model-year, will vie for attention with a mix of production vehicles and concept cars, including the Hyundai Veloster and Kia KV7.
Of course, one thing the Detroit auto show has been known for is delivering the unexpected. So who will walk away with the big headlines — and generate the sales — remains to be seen, but this year the event could prove to be the Detroit Auto Show in more than name alone.
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